In & Out: Lessons in going for the jugular

Amid the frenzy of the series gone by between Australia and South Africa down under, my most ardent and critical reader wrote to me and said: “Listen, Stewie, I’m not a fan of reading combined match reports on a Sunday.

I want something more. I want thorough analysis, like, now!”

I replied that I would try my utmost this week to satisfy his appetite for good, hard and deep analysis; although I am known, much like the Proteas, to be one to disappoint in the face of grand expectations.

Nevertheless, I’m guessing my critical reader friend wants to read more about how the Proteas managed to lose the ODI series 4-1 after showing so much promise before it (or were they merely aiming to avoid a whitewash?), as well as what they can do to avoid such embarrassment going into the World Cup early next year.

The series in Australia was a lesson in going for the jugular. That fateful bouncer Sean Abbott catapulted at Phillip Hughes’ head this week was, with condolences, nothing short of a testament to their killer instinct.

Let’s start with what we know. If we think back to the Proteas’ three-way triumph in Zimbabwe a few months back, there was one thing that set them apart from the rest – Faf du Plessis, an out-and-out batter who just happened to have found himself in a sweet, sticky “purple patch”.

He completed the series as the highest run scorer and, while he was at it, bettered the great Sachin Tendulkar’s record for scoring the most runs in a five-match triangular series (Faf scored 464 in total at an average of 92.8).

Then they went to New Zealand. Captain fantastic AB de Villiers, a solid-as-ever Hashim Amla and an in-form Quinton de Kock anchored the innings from the crease in the respective matches against the Kiwis last month to see the Proteas to an easy 2-0 series victory (which would have likely been 3-0 had rain not killed the third match).

Their laissez faire approach in the series against Australia didn’t win them acclaim from any pundits. From the second match, they began to mix up the squad, trying different combinations of batsmen and bowlers to eke out the desired result.

Morné Morkel’s fifer in that match won the game, but the worrying batting performance prompted a reconsideration of who was in and who was out, so to speak. Would they bolster the line-up with a specialist batsman, or go for another bowler to strengthen the attack?

So along came Ryan McLaren, the all-rounder on whom the Proteas decided to pin their hopes, a man who a few months ago was optimistically touted as a possible successor to Jacques Kallis. He failed, dismally.

Then up stepped Farhaan “Fudgie” Behardien. To be fair, it’s not easy to make your mark as a batsman when you’re coming in at number 7, and aside from a good knock in the final match, he was largely mediocre.

Rilee Rossouw threw his name into the hat as well. He had an okay final game, but it was hardly a performance we’ll be talking about for months to come. David Miller often looks promising, but flashes hot and cold as though he’s menopausal.

Not having another AB, Hash or Faf – men born to handle willow – in our middle order is always going to make life difficult for a team so adept at choking when their backs are against the wall.

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